Customer service in Germany gets a pretty bad rap. There are thousands of blog posts, forums posts and social media updates about how terrible customer service is here and how rude everyone working in any customer service position is. From my experience, the truth is far different. I feel that these negative views about customer service come mainly from Americans who haven’t experienced customer service in any other country but here in Germany and in the US. American customer service is far different from the customer service in my home country of Australia and that I’ve experienced in my travels around the world. People working in customer service in the US are desperately trying to prove that they are providing good customer service that they go a little overboard. As soon as you walk into a shop you are besieged by someone whose face is plastered with a huge fake smile asking you a million questions about what you are seeking. I find it extremely overwhelming to be honest. Here in Germany, people let you shop in peace. If you want to know something, you find someone and ask. That tends to be perceived as bad customer service by those knowing no different than the US model.
To be honest, and again these views come only from my personal experiences, customer service in Germany is pretty good. Yes, of course, you encounter a whole range of people working in customer service from the extremely helpful and friendly to the downright rude and insulting but that is the same as in any other country. On the whole, people here are willing to help you if you don’t be demanding or rude. There is some negativity if you refuse to speak any German and insist on only speaking English. But let’s be real here, would you expect in the US a minimum wage worker to be able to speak a second language? Then why do you expect it here in Germany? Yes, kids do get taught English at school but it doesn’t mean that they actually learn how to speak it with any great deal of confidence, if at all. Use what German you do know and try and laugh off your mistakes or at least don’t get visibility upset or stressed about it and the customer service you get back will be a thousand times better than if you insist on speaking English. Hell, I even had a running joke that lasted for months on end with my local bakery staff that stemmed from my colossal language fuck-up when ordering one day. Germans get how hard their language is to learn and they will, on the whole, give you a lot of patience and understanding (and sometimes help) if you just give speaking it a go. If you are a regular there, they will also remember you, especially if you are the only one who speaks German with an accent and you can build up a really friendly rapport. I have inadvertently trained four different sets of bakery staff over the years to remember my breakfast order including the current dour-faced grumpy one who will even grace me with a rare smile that the German customers most definitely do not get. Seriously, a smile and a friendly attitude will get you better customer service than a frown and being a bitch will. Germans service staff are not required to be nice to you like the poor sods working in the US are. If you treat them rudely they will not hesitate to do the same.
Ok, one last story cause this really blew me away. Just this week I dropped a prescription to the pharmacy and one of the drugs I required was no longer available. Not only did the pharmacist ring me to tell me, they also called the manufacturer of the drug, who was located in Austria, to find out why they were no longer making the drug and then, unbeknownst to me at the time, also called my doctor to let him know. Therefore when I turned up at the my doctor’s all ready to explain the whole story, he was already in the know and had a solution ready. Now that is beyond good customer service.
Good customer service exists in Germany but you have to be a good customer in order to receive it. Remember always be friendly, patient and understanding to the person behind the counter. Yes, this is just common decency but you would be surprised at the number of people who forget to do it. Speak as much German as you able to and don’t get upset if you screw up. In fact laughing at your mistakes will more often than not earn you a friend behind that counter for as long as you shop there. Yes, the level of customer service you receive here may be different to the level of customer service you get back home, but it is just different not worse. Also, keep in mind that assholes exists everywhere in this world and are not confined to a certain nationality.